Jurgen Klopp’s simple decisions, Wayne Rooney’s best attribute and Tim Sherwood’s naivety feature in Mark Holmes’ review of the weekend.
SQUARE PEGS IN SQUARE HOLES FOR LIVERPOOL
Much has been said about the fact that Liverpool became the first team to outrun Tottenham in the Premier League this season, but it would be churlish to get too carried away by players working harder in a new manager’s first game in charge.
Pressing and counter pressing certainly will become a feature of Liverpool’s play under Jurgen Klopp, of course, but the extra ground covered by the Reds at White Hart Lane can just as easily be put down to extra enthusiasm as it can the new man’s philosophy reaping early dividends.
What Klopp definitely can be credited for, however, is utilising players in positions they are most comfortable in. There is nothing extraordinary about that, but it was a rule Brendan Rodgers seemed determined to break as often as possible.
Many decisions were taken out of Klopp’s hands ahead of the trip to north London, with Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke all ruled out. However, while every one of Klopp’s picks made sense – Emre Can as a holding midfielder, James Milner on the right, Adam Lallana through the middle – Rodgers would almost certainly have left fans scratching their heads, with Can as part of a back three a call he undoubtedly would have made.
Sometimes managers can try to be too clever, but Klopp matched Tottenham’s 4-2-3-1 formation and made the best use of the players available to him on the day. After months of complaining about Rodgers’ selections, that alone will have won Klopp plenty of favour – as if he needed it – on Merseyside.
We must wait to see whether his decisions continue to appear sensible once the injury list is cleared, but everyone’s new favourite manager is off to a good start.
‘CHARACTER’ ROONEY’S BEST ATTRIBUTE?
Assuming Wayne Rooney sat through the recent documentary to mark him becoming England’s record goalscorer, one has to wonder what went through his mind as he watched clips of his younger self tearing up the world stage for Everton, Manchester United and the national side. No matter what he, Louis van Gaal or any of his contemporaries in the game may say, Rooney is a pale shadow of the player that shone at Euro 2004 – or the one which helped United to consecutive Champions League finals in 2009.
Ander Herrera has described him as “the best English player in history”, but Van Gaal’s praise of his captain after his goal against Everton on Saturday was rather more telling.
“I think Wayne’s strength of character is an example for everybody, not only for his fellow players but also for other players from other clubs and also for the manager, because he is a very social human being and he has a professional attitude,” Van Gaal said.
Rooney still has plenty of qualities but it is his leadership and off-pitch qualities that are more extolled these days. Good in the dressing room, a great example for the younger players, good at getting team-mates together…the same things could no doubt be said of Tony Hibbert, but it hasn’t earned him an automatic place in the Everton team. That’s an unfair comparison, perhaps, but the point is that Rooney must do more to warrant his place than simply be a good egg.
It was great, therefore, to see the 29-year-old break clear of the Everton defence on three separate occasions at Goodison Park. He alm”ost set up Anthony Martial with a clever cut-back on one such break, scored on another, and was denied by Tim Howard on the other.
“People question whether he has lost pace, yes, but he is always running in behind at the right moment and that is more important,” Van Gaal said. “When you go at the right time then you are always faster than your opponent.”
Rooney may well see his goal as an answer to his critics, but a strong United performance was achieved with Ander Herrera in the No.10 position usually occupied by the England man. It is a position many feel Herrera should be starting in much more often.
Martial will surely not play out on the left flank too often, at least not if Memphis Depay wins back his place, so sooner or later Van Gaal may again have to choose between Rooney and Herrera. If the latter continues to play as he did at the weekend, Rooney will need to show a lot more than character to convince United’s fans he continues to deserve his automatic pick under Van Gaal.
SHERWOOD SHOWS HIS NAIVETY
Speaking after yet another defeat for Aston Villa at the weekend, Tim Sherwood made it clear that he has no intention of using more conservative tactics in order to grind out some much-needed points.
It’s a tactic which few would argue against after a run of only one win in nine games, but Sherwood is adamant that Villa can play their way out of the danger they already find themselves in.
“I’m trying to instil in them not to be scared to lose,” he said.
“I want to go out on the front foot and, if I die, I die on my sword.
“Why do we need to be more pragmatic? I would never be pragmatic. I’ve done it a few times but I don’t like myself for it.”
In one way, Sherwood’s comments are admirable. If a manager is to get a set of players to fully buy in to his way of doing things, he cannot afford to rip up his blueprint at the first sign of trouble. Convincing players to do the same things and reassuring them that it will pay off is a style of management that plenty of successful bosses have followed.
However, there has to come a point, at least when your team is in a relegation battle, that a manager has to put points above philosophies. Sherwood may not like doing it, but he’ll like being out of work even less – and that’s exactly the situation in which he’ll soon find himself in if Villa do not stop the rot soon.
Swansea are next up for the Midlanders at Villa Park next weekend but after that and a Capital One Cup tie at Southampton come Premier League games against Tottenham, Manchester City and Everton.
It’s certainly not out of the realms of possibility that Sherwood’s gung-ho philosophy could earn Villa a shock win in one of those games, but it’s probably a safer bet to suggest he will soon be dead on that sword of his.